Posts Tagged ‘photograph’

Making a Photograph – Two Sides of the Coin

November 23rd, 2014

I recently read an article by William Neill in the September Outdoor Photography magazine titled “Need to Know” that really resonated with me.  His main point is, don’t let the acquisition of gear and techniques interfere with the experience.  There’s so much information out there, so many people offering advice on techniques for composing, exposing and post processing.  But in Neill’s journey he has developed what he calls, ‘… a simple but effective tool set.”

A foundation of gear and technique is important in capturing the experience.  But it is the experience that is what we’re out there for, not histograms or depth of field or leading lines.

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Mastering Sharpness – Fuzzy Photos

May 2nd, 2014

How many times have you returned from a shoot with some photographs you are really excited about only to find out they are out of focus.  That’s always very disappointing and often frustrating.  And it happens all too often to me.  At the Joshua Tree Gathering this past March someone asked the question, ”How many ways can a photograph be out of focus,” and that got me thinking.  This would be a fun article to write.

But let’s get something straight from the start.  Not all ‘out of focus’ photographs are out of focus.  They may not be sharp but that can come from two causes.  They can actually be out of focus or they can be blurry.  This may seem like a subtle distinction but it’s an important one.  So let’s take them one by one and explore their causes and solutions.

But before we do, I want to make another very important point.  A photograph that is out of focus or blurry is not always a bad thing.  Often times the artist does it intentionally because that is his or her artistic vision.  When it’s done intentionally to create an expressive photograph then it’s not only OK, it’s necessary.  It’s when it’s unintentional that we get frustrated and loose great moments.

But now, let’s get into the details.  We’ll talk about blurs first.

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Mastering Sharpness – Depth of Field

March 2nd, 2014

A topic that receives a lot of attention in our workshops is focus.  It’s incredibly important, so important that I consider Appropriate Sharpness to be one of the four pillars of a successful landscape photograph.  (For more, read Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars.)  Most of the questions center around depth of field and hyperfocal distance.  In fact, this is so important that I give a class on Appropriate Sharpness during just about every workshop.  Let’s start the discussion with Depth of Field

Depth of Field

This is the range, if you will, of objects in the view of your camera that are in focus.  Objects in front of this range are out of focus as well as objects behind the range.  A deep depth of field would have the flowers just a few feet from you camera and the distant mounts miles away all in focus.  The depth of field would then extend from a couple of feet to infinity and for all practical purposes would be infinitely deep.  This is often referred to as a ‘near-far composition.’

death_valley_sunrise_2012_rrpm_rc0A shallow depth of field may be just a couple of inches deep with nearer and more distant objects out of focus.  This is referred to as ‘Selective Focus.’

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Best of 2012 – Results

February 6th, 2014

The results are in and you have selected your favorite photographs of 2012.  Before presenting the results let me just say how much I appreciate the input from everyone that participated.  This has been an exciting experience for me and I hope you had fun.

So, on to the results.  There were eight photographs in the final runoff.  They were the top two of their categories – California Deserts, Big Sur, Eastern Sierra and Zion National Park.  So each one is a winner in it’s own right.

Let’s start with number 8 – Sunrise, North Lake.

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North Lake is in the Eastern Sierra just outside the town of Bishop,, California.  It is one of three lakes that are up Bishop Creek.  North Lake sets itself apart from the other two (Sebrina and South Lakes) in that it is naturel.  Besides being the smallest there is no dam to back up water and generate electricity.  The only development is a pack station at its head.  And there’s a rustic campsite upstream a little ways.  I always return to this same location because of the boulders in the foreground, the soft grasses and the snag in the middle ground.  The colors at sunrise are magnificent with the cool blues and greens that are still in the shade and the bright warm morning light on the peak in the back.  I get a strong feeling that all is well with the world when I’m there.

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Best of 2012

January 18th, 2014

In 2013 we started a fun project – picking the best of my photographs from 2012.  We approached it area by area, choosing the best from each.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  And now it’s time to finish what was started and select the best photograph of 2012.

There are photographs from four areas – California Deserts, Eastern Sierra, Big Sur and Zion National Park in Utah.

death_valley_sunrise_2012California has two wonderful desert national parks.  Joshua Tree here in Southern California is a blend of both high and low desert, the fantastic trees that give the park its name, outcrops of granite that attract climbers from all over the world, not to mention the great photography.  Death Valley is the premier desert attraction in the country.

pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012At the opposite end of California’s diverse spectrum is incomparable Big Sur, one hundred miles of the most incredible coastline in all of North America. Big Sur is famous for its precipitous cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean but it also boasts redwood groves, waterfalls, classic bridges and more.  One small stretch of the coast captured your imagination and for good reason.  Pfeiffer Beach is blessed with some incredible rocks just off shore pounded by powerful surf.  And when the light is just right the photographs are unbeatable.

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The Eastern Sierra boasts the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and rivers and lakes along the Owens Valley.  One of the prime attractions is the Mammoth Lakes area with it’s superb skiing and a beautiful string of alpine lakes and laughing streams.

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Zion National Park in Southwest Utah attracts visitors and photographers from all over the globe.  Its spectacular red sandstone cliffs create a canyon that of unparalleled beauty.  And when autumn storms roll through, the drama of the already impressive cliffs and towers is intensified.

This is a sampling of the photographs that are being considered for the Best of 2012.  The top two images from each of these areas are presented for your evaluation.  Take our survey to view them all and pick the ones you like the best.

Thanks for participating.  Have fun and enjoy.


Please feel free to share this with your friends.  The more input we have the better.

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Mastering Composition – What?

December 7th, 2013

Composition is one of the four pillars of a strong landscape photograph (See Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars).  There are many approaches to mastering composition and certainly countless excellent books on the topic.  Many books discuss the elements of design and how they relate to composition – line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color.  Others go into the various rules of composition – rule of thirds, golden rule, leading lines, near / far, layers, frames, etc.

All of these rules or principles are very analytical and, I think, are necessary and useful building blocks.  Often creating a strong composition is very much of a problem-solving endeavor.  But in the end I believe the goal of the composition is to support what the artist wants to communicate through the image.  And this comes more from compositions that just feel right, not ones that are mechanically created from the rules.  That’s not to say that one is not aware of these principles as the composition is being worked out.  Rather these principles are like words in a sentence.  They are carefully chosen so that the sentence as a whole communicates the author’s message.  There are several techniques that lead us to this goal.  And one of them is to ask yourself, ‘’”What am I photographing?”

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Mastering Exposure – Expose to the Right

November 16th, 2013

Over the years there has been a lot of interest in the concept of ‘Expose to the right.’  This is something that is commonly done in digital photography where you intentionally overexpose an image.  The idea is that in digital images there is more information to work with in the brighter tonalities than there is in the darker.  And this will give you more to work with in the darkroom (Lightroom and Photoshop) which will result in a better image.

I’ve written several posts on this topic and if the concept is new to you please read these.  I’m not going to go into the theory here; that is spelled out in these posts.

Lightroom Tutorial – Expose to the Right

Expose to the right – Revisited

Now, I understand the theory.  I’m a computer guy; I had better understand it.  But I’ve always wondered if the promise of a better image actually worked out in real life.  So I did a test during our recent photography workshop to Big Sur.

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Two Minutes of Light

September 17th, 2013

You read this story again and again.  The setting may be different but the plot is always the same.

It’s a dreary, overcast day.  You had planned this photo session for months, scouting it on Google Earth for the best location, checked the sun position on TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris), and received inspiration from the photographs of other photographers.  You made travel plans and booked lodging.

You arrived early at the iconic location, having traveled across the country and driven many miles in a rental car to get there.  But as you approach the sky turns dark with low hanging, gray clouds.  The light is a disappointment but you walk out to a viewpoint and set up anyway.  You keep telling yourself that good fortune happens to those who are prepared.

The minutes tick by and the sun, unseen behind a thick cloak of clouds, continues its inexorable decent to the horizon.  Other photographers join you and you ask each other, “Will it happen?”  Most shrug their shoulders and reply, “It doesn’t look like it will.”  It turns chilly and a cold breeze starts blowing.  Many photographers mutter, “It’s not going to happen,” pack up their gear and head back to their cars and a warm meal waiting them in the comfort of a nearby restaurant.

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Mastering Light – Warm and Cool

July 28th, 2013

Light has several properties that are important to landscape photographers including quality, direction and color.

It is important to understand that different times of day and weather conditions will produce light of different colors.  Also, when you add artificial light sources the range of colors expands.

Our brains play tricks on us when it comes to color.  During twilight we don’t see that the light is a soft, delicate blue.  In fact, we don’t perceive any color cast at all.  But the camera is not fooled.  It sees what is actually there.  Take this image that I call ‘Breakfast’ as an example.

light-warm_and_cool

When drastically different light sources are set next to each other than our eyes can clearly see the difference in the colors.  In this photograph the interior of our home is illuminated by tungsten lights which give off a very warm color.  That’s why our homes feel so warm and cozy at night – because of the warm light emitted by tungsten lights.  (That will change as we replace the tungsten lights with CFLs or LED lights.)  Outside we have a foggy morning at twilight.  The sun is about 10 minutes away from rising.  And it’s clear the color of the outside light is blue.

If I was standing outside away from the warm tungsten light, my mind would trick me into thinking the light was not blue, just a neutral gray.  But the camera is not fooled.

So then why are we so easily fooled?  Because of perception.  Our brains receive input from all of our senses including our eyes.  And without us even being aware of it, this input is translated into something we are familiar with, concepts and generalizations we have learned from all the accumulated experiences of our lives.  And our brain overrides (manipulates if you will) the actual blue color of the outdoor light and we perceive it as neutral.

Our perceptions help us with everyday living.  They help to bring order to our lives from the endless bombardment of stimuli.  But perception interferes with the photographic process of seeing.  As far as day-to-day life is concerned we don’t need to see that the outdoor light is blue.  But as photographers, cultivating the ability to see beyond our perceptions opens up the world to us in ways we normally can’t even imagine.  And isn’t this what photography is all about?


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Color Management Made Simple – Color Space

June 6th, 2013

Color Management is a very complex topic.  And it’s possible to get bogged down in a lot of technical details.  But it’s extremely important, especially if you want to print your photographs.  And it can be broken down into a few simple concepts.

On my workshops I often get asked questions about color management and the topic is huge and a bit technical to get into the details.  So I thought I’d give an overview of the topic in a few blog posts.  Who knows, maybe I’ll create a presentation that can be used during  a workshop.

Color Space

Let’s start with color space which is the whole reason we need color management.

A color space is all the colors that can be rendered using a given technology.  Think if it this way.  You all enjoyed coloring with crayons when you were young. And I don’t know  about you but I was always envious of my friends that had the big giant boxes of crayons with 120 different colors.  They had every color under the sun.

crayons_120cnt

We can think of the 120 crayon box as being the color space of the real world with every color under the sun.

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